Does Social Media Make PR Agencies Obsolete?

A fascinating discussion arose during Journchat Live in Toronto last night:

Does social media let everyone act as their own PR agency?

No. It doesn’t.

More than publicity

Is it always right to do it yourself?Public relations is much more than just pitching reporters. It’s event organization; it’s issues management; it’s media training; it’s strategic planning; it’s internal communications. In our company we broaden it further to include web property design and development, relationship building, community building, online issues management and more.

Social media does let people conduct some aspects of public relations themselves, such as building relationships with journalists and online influencers, and outreach to those people.

However, public relations isn’t as simple as drafting a release and pitching it. It requires skill and experience. I could become a butcher; a baker; a builder if I wanted to – however it would require years of training for me to do it well. Similarly, you can’t just pick up the reins of public relations and undertake the full suite of functions that the PR department does.

Desktop publishing software let anyone design documents but few people could do it well. Online tools let anyone be a journalist, but only a few sites do that well.

What’s more, anyone can undertake rudimentary public relations efforts through social media, but few people will do them well. Public relations is the outward face of your organization – do you want someone without a thorough knowledge of the nuances and skills of the discipline representing you publicly?

However, that doesn’t mean the status quo remains.

Public relations needs to evolve

Mainstream media dismissed the emergence of online media only to realize later that they had missed a seismic change in their industry. PR also needs to evolve.

As an industry, public relations need to embrace social media tools in order to stay on top of the changes underfoot. As more and more research shows that public relations is a natural fit for social media, we need to make this case to our clients.

We need to blog; to create podcasts; to experiment on Twitter; to produce videos; to build social media sites; to foster online communities. We need to do this so we don’t lose relevancy during these changes; so we can provide integrated solutions to our clients; and so we don’t lose the game to other disciplines and other business functions.

That’s my take. Social media doesn’t mean everyone can do public relations; however, it does mean that we need to up our game to get the best results for our clients, and to separate ourselves from the also-rans.

What do you think?

(Image: Shutterstock)

  • Great post. I really like your line, “Social media doesn’t mean everyone can do public relations.” This is where the PR industry has an opportunity to utilize SM platforms to do the job even better. Which brings me to my other favorite part of your post – these tools (and yes, they are only tools) are a natural fit for our industry. Now, we can package the story in so many ways and optimize it for conversation, getting the story heard and retold by its intended audience.

  • Couldn’t have said it better myself. Very well thought out post.

    Love this line, “Mainstream media dismissed the emergence of online media only to realize later that they had missed a seismic change in their industry. PR also needs to evolve.”

    You got it πŸ™‚

  • I’ll second your assessment of “No”. However, I’d look to a lot more social media agencies shifting gears into more PR related pursuits as time goes on. It’s easier to go in reverse and pick up capabilities then to forge new ones. Should be an interesting few years.

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  • I agree. But, let me add, those who use social media instead of hiring public relations professionals probably wouldn’t opt for a PR rep anyway. Truly professional entertainers and businesses do not deny their need for a public relations officer.

  • Absolutely not. What SM does is make PR professionals and PR agencies realize that they need to be contstantly honing their craft. There are agencies that know and understand SM and there are agencies that don’t grasp the concept yet.

    That being said, I think those goes back to the idea that SM is not the be-all end-all. I think a lot of folks are jumping on the SM bandwagon and bringing their entire wardrobe. At #journchat Live MN, we discussed that it’s key in today’s environment to be extremely well-rounded. Learn everything you can. With that thought, there are a lot of reasons why agencies are still around – certain things they do are simply better than what 1 person can achieve.

    Agencies are here to stay – they must evolve. PR is here to stay – it must evolve.

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  • With the advent of social media, PR agencies are needed more than ever on the “issues management” side of the business. The speed and reach of social media can take a company down in a matter of hours. If PR agencies aren’t embracing and understanding the impact of social media, they’re doing a disservice to their clients.

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  • Dave,

    Thanks for this important post. I agree with you – and have written about this same discussion in the past on our blog: http://bit.ly/9spXV

    Social media is a means of communication. It doesn’t make one automatically strategic, good at marketing and PR or sales. Does using WebEx make you a conferencing expert? Does buying a new filet knife make you a master chef? No. And using social media tools doesn’t make you a great communicator or a PR expert.

    More excerpts from my past opinions on this include:

    Popularity or activity in social media communities – how to grow a Twitter following, how to share information faster, how to create and post videos, and more – does not equate to an expert understanding of how to build a lifelong brand, what creates brand loyalty, or how to create an integrated communications strategy for building relationships with both internal and external audiences. A strategy that should support – and positively impact – the long-term corporate goals of a business.

    Yes, social media is changing the face of PR, marketing and advertising. Absolutely, social media should be a part of these important business efforts. The key phrase here is β€œa part of these efforts.” Social media is just one of the elements of β€œmanaging the flow of information between an organization and its publics.”

    Thanks again for raising the issue – I have a feeling it isn’t one that will go away anytime soon.

    Christine Perkett
    PerkettPR, Inc.
    http://www.twitter.com/missusP
    http://www.twitter.com/PerkettPR
    http://www.perkettprsuasion.com

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  • Here’s the key line (IMO) to your entire argument, Dave: “Mainstream media dismissed the emergence of online media only to realize later that they had missed a seismic change in their industry. PR also needs to evolve.”

    Without proactively evolving (and the proactive part is really the key here), PR will end up exactly like the legacy media industry, and before that, the music industry, with its head completely in the sand, staring a problem right in the face and refusing to budge, all the while, everything and everyone else in the world moves right past it.

    Like both of those aforementioned beleaguered industries, PR faces an immense challenge now, one that those of us who work in the business must commit ourselves to correcting and moving forward. Just like the music industry in the late-1990s when Napster first came on board, we have all of the tools at our disposal and we know what SHOULD be done, but we can’t be like the music industry: we can’t keep fighting it, and we can’t blame it on others. The impetus to change, to evolve and to help prosper PR lies squarely on us.

    Keith Trivitt
    @KeithTrivitt

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